Chiara Bullen reviews some of the latest Scottish literary productions in the June edition of BookSpace
Girl in a Cage, by Jane Yolen and Robert J Harris
Young Adult Historical Fiction | Cranachan | £7.99 | Buy here
When her father, Robert the Bruce, becomes King of Scotland, Marjorie Bruce becomes a princess. But Edward Longshanks, the ruthless King of England, has set his sights on Robert and his family. Marjorie is captured and imprisoned in a wooden cage in the centre of a town square, exposed to wind, rain, the taunts of the townspeople, and the scorn of Longshanks himself.
Hot on the heels of the current voracious appetite for Scottish history in pop-culture, Girl in a Cage brings this to a younger audience with its riveting tale of Marjorie Bruce during the turbulent 14th Century relationship between Scotland and England. Marjorie’s character is the epitome of the YA heroine: witty, smart, mischievous, bold and drastically opposed to the word of adults refusing to take the word of a child. The chapters run parallel narratives of Marjorie’s time before captivity and her time in the cage, which makes for heart-breaking reading. A must-read for any child in Scotland — and beyond.
My Name Is Monster, by Katie Hale
Fiction | Canongate | £12.99 | Buy Here
After the Sickness has killed off her parents, and the bombs have fallen on the last safe cities, Monster emerges from the Arctic vault which has kept her alive. When she washes up on the coast of Scotland, everyone she knows is dead, and she believes she is alone in an empty world. Monster begins the long walk south, scavenging and learning the contours of this familiar land made new. Slowly, piece by piece, she begins to rebuild a life. Until, one day, she finds a girl: another survivor, feral, and ready to be taught all that Monster knows. But the lessons the girl learns are not always those Monster means to teach . . .
The first 100 pages or so of this narrative are fast-paced and present a classic survival-esque tale of endurance. The novel takes a drastic turn when our initial protagonist discovers a young girl she names ‘Monster’, where the sinister aspects of the story bloom amongst their relationship. It reminds me of Adrian J Walker’s End of The World Running Club — the cause of the ‘end of the world’ is vague enough to avoid plot holes whilst keeping your interest piqued. Despite the apocalyptic destruction of the world, our protagonist still finds society’s pre-existing expectations of women to be the most destructive force of all, portrayed through some poignant internal monologues.
Our Little Secrets, by Peter Ritchie
Crime | Black and White | £8.99 | Buy here
After a rather lacklustre prologue (there’s nothing like a Lion King reference to rip you out of a dark and otherwise action-packed scene) this book thankfully drops you right in the middle of the action, something I prefer compared to the usual ‘warming up’ beginning of crime novels. The premise is intriguing, with the dynamics between officers and criminals complex enough to offer a refreshing take on this genre. Unfortunately, the main ‘antagonist’ Janet Hadden displays some cliché, stereotypical traits of the ‘villainous woman’ which I personally am a little tired of. However, Grace Macallan is a well-rounded and inspiring lead. This is the fifth instalment in her detective series, and I look forward to reading more.
Finer Things, by David Wharton
Fiction | Sandstone Press | £7.99 | Buy here
London: 1963. The lives of a professional shoplifter from an all female gang, and a sheltered young art student collide. Delia needs to atone for a terrible mistake; Tess is desperate to convince herself she really is an artist. Elsewhere in London, the Krays are on the rise and a gang war is in the offing.
Filled to the brim with vibrant characters and charm, this debut novel from David Wharton is utterly captivating. Lively Delia and timid Tess couldn’t be more different and I love how compelling their relationship is. The 60s setting is pulled off seamlessly, and although set in London the book gives off some Mad Men vibes. Absolutely hilarious, this is a rich and fulfilling story that leaves you eager for more. Wharton’s writing style is oozing with eloquence, wit and nuance which makes for an enjoyable read. Wharton is definitely one to watch.